Marc Tarozzi, project manager
at MSG Entertainment, explains
the restoration of the Beacon
Theatre to reporters at a recent
By Clive Young.
A venerable stage in New York City, the Beacon Theatre has been the site for hundreds of incredible shows over the years, including hosting the likes of The Rolling Stones for the filming of their Shine A Light concert film, and the Allman Brothers Band for its annual run of shows every spring. Now the venue has undergone a massive restoration, receiving an audio upgrade to match its musical heritage.
First opened in 1929, the 2,800-seat venue took a beating over the years as it housed everything from live vaudeville to movies, before settling into a routine of hosting 150 music shows a year over the last few decades. In 2006, MSG Entertainment, which also owns Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall, acquired the venue at Broadway and 74th Street–now a national landmark on the National Register of Historic Places–and found it needed serious repair.
The result was a seven-month, $16 million project that included refurbishing the venue’s audio, as well as loading docks, ceilings and more. While the Beacon has been regarded to have generally good sound, management felt that project care could improve the acoustics in the facility.
Marc Tarozzi, project manager at MGE, explained, “Acoustics were always a big part of the project. We were actually confident that if anything, we would actually be helping them. Some things were as simple as bringing more drapery into the theater. We also knew going with a more cushioned seat would provide some minimal improvements. We were pretty confident that nothing we were going to do would diminish them, but it was a big goal to make the acoustics better as well.”
Richard Claffey, SVP and general manager, Radio City Facilities, noted, “I was getting a lot of letters about sound in the balcony not hitting all the seats in the back; there were problems due to the depth of the upper balcony, plus issues in the loge and slapback. It was always regarded as a great acoustic building, but there were issues and the public let us know about it many times. The decision was made to add some supplemental sound in the building so that audiences get the same experience that they would get at Radio City Music Hall in the upper balconies.”
While Radio City underwent extensive renovations in 1999, it received a new PA system two years ago in an effort to ensure that all productions that pass through its doors met a basic level of audio quality. The decision was to introduce a similar concept at the Beacon.
To that end, JBL VerTec and custom EAW under-balcony loudspeakers were installed that will tie into visiting productions’ touring PA systems. The VerTecs–hung as two pairs of four VT4889 each–are placed to cover the upper balcony, while the custom EAWs–a JF-80 modified with a 60×40-degree horn and a different crossover–were placed under the loge and balcony. All of the various loudspeakers are powered by QSC amplifiers. The plan was developed with audio consultant Jack Wrightson of Dallas-based Wrightson, Johnson, Haddon & Williams (WJHW), and Clair Brothers (Lititz, PA).
At Radio City, visiting productions are required to use the house PA–also JBL, EAW and QSC-based–but that’s not the case at the Beacon, where the boxes are only meant to supplement an act’s touring PA. Accordingly, a tour could conceivably skip using the new house PA if it so chooses. “But why would you?” asked Claffey, rhetorically. “Why would you not want to get the ultimate sound up in the balcony and the depth?”
While the venue is directly next door to a hotel, soundproofing wasn’t an item on the sound “to do” list for the restoration, said Claffey; instead, the neighbors were only concerned about jackhammers used during the renovation process, not loudspeakers once the efforts were completed.
Other areas that benefited from the restoration include the venue’s magnificent ceiling, carpeting, murals, and the huge, ornate lobby chandelier, part of which was held together with a coffee can spray-painted gold. “We think really kind of epitomizes how the theater may have been treated for many years,” said Tarozzi. Needless to say, the chandelier has been restored, and the can has been given a new home on a shelf backstage as a reminder of a different age.
The venue is beloved to many New Yorkers–Tarozzi fondly recalls seeing a favorite Alice Cooper show in the semi-Gothic theatre, while Claffey makes a point to catch as many Allman Brothers concerts there as possible. It was only fitting then, that native New Yorker (and Clair Global client) Paul Simon played the first show in the restored facility, a special event that included a surprise set with another New Yorker: Art Garfunkel.